125 years young

We look back to the founding of Meat Trades Journal and its evolution over 125 years of reporting in an industry that has changed dramatically

The Victorian period saw a major revolution in both meat consumption and the sale of meat, prompting seismic shifts in the landscape of the trade.

The dramatic jump in consumption, combined with rising affluence, technological developments and growing world trade prompted a serious challenge to the old order of meat men. Their response, 125 years ago, was to meet the situation head-on, with the birth of both Meat Trades Journal and the National Federation of Meat and Food Traders.

An explosion in personal wealth created a growing demand for meat on the dinner table and, as a result, domestic per capita consumption rose from 80lb in the middle of Queen Victoria’s reign to more than 130lb by the end of the century. Initially, the UK was self-sufficient when it came to meat production, but with the increased demand, coupled with the great leaps forward in refrigeration technology, imports began to flood in to meet that demand. Before long, imported meat was making up 40% of total UK consumption.

That boom saw a corresponding rise in the numbers of butchers serving the market, which, combined with the rising power of the railway companies, created a growing need for more co-operation and cohesion on a national level for the meat trade. So, following a meeting of representatives from 18 cities and towns in a hotel in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, it was decided to band together and create not only a national confederation but a trade newspaper as a “weapon” to “defend their own cause, and attack those who spread wrong notions and poisoned the public mind against the trade”.

Three men proved instrumental in the founding of the journal: Edward Darby, the Yorkshire Association’s secretary, who proposed the idea of a confederation; William Field of Dublin, who proposed the idea of a trade paper; and Fred Reid, the secretary for the Liverpool Association, who was destined to take the job as the first-ever editor of the Meat Trades Journal and Cattle Salesman’s Gazette, as it was then titled.

The first-ever issue, a 16-page paper, was sent out with remarkable speed to over 20,000 potential readers. From the initial decision being made in Dewsbury on the 12 March 1888, it was less than two months later when MTJ launched on 5 May.

The first 70 years of Meat Trades Journal’s existence saw just three long-standing editors. Reid remained in the post for 30 years until he stepped down to be replaced by Alec Scott, or AJ Scott as was known. Scott took on the reins for a further 18 years before handing over to Fred Martin in 1936. In total, the paper has seen just 10 editors in its 125 years, with five of them covering the first 90 years, and the remaining five in the past 35 years.

The second issue of MTJ introduced the concept of the supplement for the first time – something that later became a staple of the magazine going forwards. This first ever supplement was issued in honour of Edward Darby, one of the founding figures of the magazine and the first secretary of the newly established National Federation. Upon his retirement, Darby, who was also an accomplished writer on topics such as techinical research on issues around veterinary matters and animal slaughter and also an author of children’s books, was lauded for his contribution to the trade. According to sources he demonstrated to authorities and the public that “butchers and cattlemen were not illiterate, uncouth, ignorant and uncaring men”.

The newly launched trade paper quickly established itself as the ‘Butchers’ Bible’ and it styled itself as the “organ of the trade in the United Kingdom” on its front page and became the platform for debate and discussion on the issues of the day – a role unchanged to the present day.

Right from its earliest days, Meat Trades Journal was a campaigning title on the issues of the day – in particular animal welfare. It was instrumental in the debate over the safe shipping of cattle, which led to the establishment of the ‘Plimsoll Line’, and the magazine continued to berate the railway companies for failing to introduce more humane cattle cars for transporting livestock.

Originally, Meat Trades Journal’s offices were based in ‘The Walks’, the cattlemen’s quarter of Liverpool, but in 1892 the publication moved offices to London, a stone’s throw from Smithfield Market. The move was prompted by the editor Fred Reid’s fears that the title was too provincial and needed to step on to a larger stage. Prior to this, Meat Trades Journal had been owned, published and printed by Messrs Heywood of Manchester, so to facilitate the move, the decision was made for the trade to own MTJ – thus the Meat Trades Journal Company was formed and remained the owner for the next 71 years.

That industry ownership saw MTJ through some of the most significant moments in history, from the First World War and the following Great Depression through to the Second World War and beyond. The build-up to the Great War was noticed early on in the pages of the Journal, with reports noting the lack of Dutch veal on the market being attributed to stockpiling for a possible “continental conflict”.

MTJ played a key role within the trade during both wars, reporting on the difficult conditions and ensuring information on market conditions was communicated. It also played a valuable social role, keeping the trade informed as to the welfare of those who were involved in the conflict.

In the post-war years the magazine continued to push for the industry’s interests, particularly when it came to issues surrounding rationing and the control on meat. The end of rationing was celebrated in style by the publication with a bumper 130-page issue, the largest in its history, offering advice to more than 33,000 readers. The size and number of the papers to be printed actually led to the publication going out a day late.
The 1960s brought serious change to the title, with the success of MTJ in trade hands leading to interest from one of the leading publishing houses of its day, Thomson International. The magazine was acquired by the group in 1962 and, within a few years, had undergone radical change – out went the traditional A4 size, and in came a new newspaper tabloid-style format priced at 1s (5p), which met with favourable reactions.

The departure of Ron Lickorish from the editor’s chair in 1978 brought to an end the tradition of long-standing editors of the magazine, While the previous five editors had notched up, between them, an impressive 90 years on the job, the subsequent 35 has seen a further five editors fill their shoes. In that time, the industry has undergone considerable change, and Meat Trades Journal has had to evolve alongside it.

Over the subsequent years, the Journal has changed hands a number of times, moving from Thomson to EMAP, then to Quantum Publishing, before arriving at its present home William Reed Business Media in 2005. The following year saw the magazine undergo further major change, with the departure of long-standing editor Fred A’Court and the relaunch of the title as a fortnightly publication under the new editor Ed Bedington.

The last 20 years or so has seen the entire print industry forced to adapt and change and, for MTJ, that initially took the form of launching new events and competitions, such as Champion of Champions, the SuperMeat & Fish Awards and the Butcher’s Shop of the Year Awards (originally called Top Shop). The digital age quickly took over and MTJ is now available online through its website www.meatinfo.co.uk and international sister site www.globalmeatnews.com.

To mark 125 years is a significant achievement for any operation, and Meat Trades Journal is no different. It has seen seismic changes to the trade and has reacted accordingly, but continues, at its heart, to offer the same principles of service to the sector as it did when it was founded way back in 1888.


  • 1846    Corn Laws repealed, opening up Free Trade.
  • 1855    Metropolitan Cattle Market opened in Islington, London.
  • 1856    First refrigerated meat packing room built, in Australia.
  • 1860s-1890s    International supply chains established to deliver meat to Smithfield Market, and onward distribution around UK by rail.
  • 1865    Union Stock Yards, Chicago established, and first centralised meat processing and packing operations set up. First international trading companies established.
  • 1868    New Central Market, Smithfield completed.   
  • 1869    First purpose-built cold storage plant established in France.
  • 1870    First New Zealand shipment of canned meat.
  • 1882    First frozen lamb carcases delivered from New Zealand to Britain in the ‘Dunedin’ ship, fitted with refrigeration.
  • 1888    Meat Trades Journal and National Federation of Meat Traders founded.
  • 1897    Vestey international butchery business founded. Trade with South America started.
  • 1914-1918    First World War – concept of food rationing.
  • 1920s and ’30s    Food Boards established.
  • 1939– 1945    Second World War.
  • 1940    Food rationing introduced.
  • 1947    The Agriculture Act established, generous farm subsidies.
  • 1954    Rationing ends.
  • 1968    Meat & Livestock Commission formed.
  • 1975    Meat Promotion Council founded.
  • 1986    First case of BSE in cattle reported.
  • 1996    BSE linked to first case of human CJD.
  • 1997    Beef, lamb and pigmeat interests start to break away from MLC. Wales and Scotland push for more self-rule.
  • 2000    Bpex, Eblex, HCC, and QMS established as separate bodies.
  • 2001    Foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in Britain.
  • 2008    Agricultural & Horticultural Development Board established.